Autism and Obesity: Is There A Connection?

Almost 50% of American children with autism aged 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, compared with less than 33% of their typically developing peers, according to a new study.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 18, 2023
min read

Autism and Obesity

Autism and obesity are two health issues that have become increasingly prevalent over the last few decades.

While they may seem unrelated, recent studies have suggested that there may be a connection between the two.

In this article, we will explore the relationship between autism and obesity, the potential causes of this connection, and the implications it may have for individuals with autism.

What The Research Says About Obesity and Autism's Connection

What is autism?

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior.

What is obesity?

Obesity is a condition characterized by excessive body fat that increases the risk of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

Several studies have found a link between autism and obesity. For example, a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that children with autism were more likely to be obese than children without autism.

bad diet

Another study published in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research found similar results, with adults with ASD being more likely to be overweight or obese than those without ASD.

So why might there be a connection between autism and obesity?

One potential explanation is that individuals with autism may be more likely to engage in sedentary behaviors and have a limited range of interests, which can make it difficult to engage in physical activity.

Additionally, some individuals with autism may have sensory sensitivities that make it uncomfortable to participate in certain types of physical activity or eat certain foods.

Another potential explanation is that certain medications used to treat autism may contribute to weight gain. For example, antipsychotic medications are sometimes used to treat behavioral symptoms associated with autism, and these medications are known to cause weight gain.

The implications of the connection between autism and obesity are significant. Obesity can lead to a range of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems.

Additionally, being overweight or obese can exacerbate some of the behavioral symptoms associated with autism, such as anxiety and social isolation.

One solution is to promote healthy eating and physical activity among individuals with autism.

This may involve working with healthcare providers, educators, and caregivers to develop tailored approaches that take into account the unique needs and challenges faced by individuals with autism.

Another solution is to explore alternative treatments for behavioral symptoms associated with autism that do not involve medications known to cause weight gain. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety and other behavioral symptoms associated with autism.


Can autism cause overeating?

Many children with autism show signs of overeating. In fact, a recent study found that atypical eating behaviors, such as hypersensitivity to textures tend to occur in around 70% of children on the spectrum.

Is it common for autistic children to be overweight?

Another study found that children with autism are up to 41% more likely to develop obesity. Of these children, those at the highest risk are girls, nonwhite children, and older children.

How does autism affect metabolism?

Recent research suggests that autism may affect metabolism, which could help explain the link between autism and obesity.

A study published in the journal Molecular Autism found that individuals with autism have a different metabolic profile than those without autism.

Specifically, individuals with autism were found to have lower levels of certain amino acids and higher levels of certain fatty acids. These differences in metabolism could potentially contribute to weight gain and other health issues associated with obesity.

Further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between autism, metabolism, and obesity, but this study highlights the importance of considering metabolic factors when addressing the health needs of individuals with autism.

Why do children with autism overeat?

Research suggests that children with autism may overeat due to several reasons. One reason is that they may have sensory sensitivities that lead them to prefer certain textures or flavors, which can limit their food choices and result in overconsumption of preferred foods.

Additionally, some children with autism may have difficulty recognizing when they are full or regulating their appetite due to difficulties with interoception, the ability to sense internal bodily sensations.

Finally, some studies suggest that certain medications used to treat autism may increase appetite and contribute to weight gain.

Why do kids with autism gain weight?

Research suggests that there are many factors that contribute to weight gain in children with autism. One factor is the difficulty they may have in communicating their needs and preferences around food, which can lead to overeating or consuming limited diets lacking in key nutrients.

Additionally, children with autism may struggle with self-regulation, leading to impulsive eating behaviors or difficulty stopping when full.

Sensory sensitivities can also play a role, as some children may avoid certain foods based on texture or taste. Finally, medications used to treat symptoms of autism such as anxiety and depression can have side effects such as increased appetite and weight gain.

Understanding the root causes of weight gain in children with autism is crucial for developing effective interventions and supports that address their unique needs and promote healthy habits for long-term health outcomes.

What can kids with autism do to lose weight?

One of the best ways for kids with autism to lose weight is to engage in regular physical activity. However, it's important to find activities that are enjoyable and appropriate for their unique needs and interests.

For some children with autism, team sports or gym classes may be overwhelming or overstimulating. In these cases, activities such as swimming, hiking, yoga, or martial arts may be more appealing.

It can also be helpful to break up physical activity into shorter sessions throughout the day rather than one long session. This can help prevent sensory overload and make it easier to maintain a consistent exercise routine.

Another key factor in weight loss is nutrition. Children with autism may have food sensitivities or preferences that make it difficult to follow traditional diets. Working with a healthcare provider or nutritionist who understands the unique needs of individuals with autism can be helpful in developing a healthy eating plan.

Finally, parents and caregivers can play an important role in promoting healthy habits by modeling healthy behaviors themselves and creating a supportive environment for physical activity and healthy eating at home.


In conclusion, there appears to be a connection between autism and obesity. While the exact causes of this connection are not yet fully understood, it is clear that there are implications for the health and well-being of individuals with autism.

By promoting healthy eating and physical activity and exploring alternative treatments for behavioral symptoms associated with autism, we may be able to mitigate some of the risks associated with this connection.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

Table of Contents